ENCROACHMENTS UPON THE CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPAL [sic] OF THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
The constitutional principle of Church and State is endangered today from two quarters: By the continued practice of releasing children from public schools during school hours for purposes of sectarian instruction in religion, and by the proposal to appropriate federal funds in support of non-public schools of a sectarian character.
In March 1948, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered a decision in the case of McCollum vs. Board of Education, Champaign, Illinois, which at the time seemed to re-affirm and clarify the principle of separation of Church and State. The public schools of Champaign where [sic] enjoined in this decision from releasing children from secular instruction in school hours in order to attend classes in religious education. The court drew attention to two essential aspects of the principle in question. It pointed out that Amendment I to the Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion by taking religion out of the sphere of public control, regulation and support and it likewise forbids the use of public funds, public property or the machinery of public education in order to promote any and all religious faiths.
At a recent meeting of the International Council of Religious Education the general secretary reported that, despite the McCollum decision, less than ten per cent (10%) of the classes in this country which were conducted on a released time plan have ceased their activities. He likewise states that since the case before the Court involved both the use of school buildings and an assignment of school time for religious instruction there is legal support for the assumption that the Court intended to enjoin only the former.
We believe this to be an incorrect interpretation of the Supreme Court decision; that the Court clearly forbade both the invasion of school time and misuse of school property; that both practices are clearly illegal. In each instance, to quote the words of the Court, 'The operation of the State's compulsory education system thus assists and is integrated with the program of religious instruction carried on by separate religious sects., Moreover, the fact that "pupils compelled by law to go to school for secular education are released in part from their legal duty upon the condition that they attend the religious classes" is a practice, which, the Court pointed out, "is beyond all question a utilization of the tax-established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith, and it falls squarely under the ban of the First Amendment (made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth)."
It is a distinction of little difference whether classes which disrupt the school program are taught inside or outside the school building. In each instance the offense consists in fostering what Justice Frankfurter in his opinion termed "a feeling of separatism" between children of different sects ... "when the school should be the training ground for habits of community."
This brings us to our major objection to programs of religious education on school time. It offends against the moral and ethical principles which should permeate public education. We believe a careful study of the actual effects of these programs on community life will confirm the judgment of the Board of Education in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Following an experience of three years duration Harrisburg abolished released time on the ground that "it neither met the needs of religious education nor justified the effects upon the public school program". In Harrisburg as elsewhere the segregation of children on religious lines had led to more intolerance, discrimination, and disunity than existed prior to the introduction of released time programs.
Indeed, division and rivalry and accentuated intolerance which tend to accompany the obvious segregation of public school children into sectarian groups in communities of mixed social and religious population are precisely the conditions our forefathers hoped to remedy and offset when they conceived of separation of Church and State. They realized to quote Justice Frankfurter once again, that 'The sharp confinement of the public schools to secular education was a recognition of the need of a democratic society to educate its children, insofar as the State undertook to do so, in an atmosphere free from pressures in a realm in which pressures are most resisted and where conflicts are most easily and most bitterly engendered.'
A further indication of the fact that the Supreme Court intended to enjoin both the use of school time and school buildings for religious instruction is found in Justice Frankfurter's sustaining opinion. Pointing out that "the intrusion of religious instruction into the public school system of Champaign, I cannot be minimized by saying it absorbs a small item of time, he states that if I it were merely a question of enabling a child to obtain religious instruction with a receptive mind" other means could be found, including the plan of 'dismissed time' whereby "one school day is shortened to allow all children to go where they please, leaving those who so desire to go to a religious school." But, runs that opinion, " The momentum of the whole school atmosphere and school planning is presumably put behind religious instruction, as given in Champaign, precisely in order to secure for the religious instruction such momentum and planning."
A second attack upon the principle of separation of Church and State comes from groups desirous of securing state and federal funds on behalf of parochial schools. The same individuals and groups who now concede that the McCollum decision bans the use of school property for religious instruction are asking Congress to write legislation designed to provide federal funds for education in the states under conditions that will make public funds available to non-public as well as to public schools.
We believe the needs of public education in the states are too grave and too pressing to warrant the risk of having vitally needed legislation declared unconstitutional because of sectarian provisions. Moreover, the sums that are likely to become available for state aid to public education are too meager to permit the diversion of any amount to religious schools. And, finally, the principle of granting funds for educational purposes to institutions over which neither state nor federal authorities presume to exercise control in the formulation of policy is highly dangerous. In some instances the basic plan of education thus subsidized is formulated outside the jurisdiction of the United States. If the American people should decide to subsidize one type of education over which they cannot presume to exercise control of any significance, by the same token they commit themselves equally to blind support of other types of education, be they democratic or undemocratic.
For these reasons we urge upon Congress that it eliminate all provisions from measures now pending before it which would permit the granting of federal funds to non-public schools. And, further, we urge that steps be taken in those states which deviate from the established principle of separation of Church and State in the use of public funds to test the constitutionality of so doing.
Source: Whereas ... 1962
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